|Residents take part in a fire prevention and fighting drill in HCM City's District 9. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Vu
by Khanh Van
HA NOI (VNS)— Putting the chairs away and sweeping the floor, Tran Van Hung finishes up his day in a small restaurant by throwing the still smouldering embers from the kitchen stove into the dustbin. Hung doesn't realise that his actions could start a fire, and he's not the only one.
Three years ago, it was a similar smouldering ember that caused a huge fire at a building in Thanh Xuan District that killed two people. The accident happened after a local resident threw hot coals left over at the end of the day into the building's public dustbin.
This lack of awareness among members of the public is partly to blame for the increase in fires which have caused significant loss of life and damage to property in recent years, especially during holiday time like the up-coming Tet festival.
Nearly 2,600 fires occurred last year in Viet Nam, killing 124 people and injuring 349. The figure represented a 10 per cent rise in comparison with 2012, according to a report from the Ministry of Public Security.
Ha Noi alone recorded 161 fires that killed 12 people and injured 21 others. Total damage was estimated at more than VND45 billion (US$2.1 million).
Noticeably, a fire that broke out at a fireworks factory in the northern province of Phu Tho in October last year caused a blast that killed 24 people and injured nearly 100 more. The financial damage from the accident was estimated at around VND52 billion ($2.47 million). One month later, a blaze at a bar on the capital's Tran Thanh Tong Street that killed six people was allegedly caused by careless welders.
In the first days of the New Year, a series of fires have already occurred in different localities. Last Saturday, four students were killed and one seriously injured in a fire that broke out following explosions in HCM City's District 10.
According to initial reports, the explosions happened while the students were using chemicals (including sulfur) to make firecrackers for the upcoming Tet festival.
Head of the Ha Noi Department of Fire Prevention and Fighting's Information Dissemination Office Nguyen Quang An said people still paid little attention to fire prevention tasks.
"Many buildings are equipped with fire prevention and fighting equipment such as extinguishers and alarm systems, but many go unserviced and break down, reducing their efficiency," he said.
A survey carried out by the Ha Noi Fire Prevention and Fighting Police in 2011 revealed that only 3 per cent of 924 public places checked in the city met fire fighting and prevention regulations. They included high-rise building, residential quarters, schools, hospitals, cinemas and discotheques.
Of the remainder, 233 had designated fire fighting teams but their fire prevention and fighting equipment did not meet regulations or was out of service.
The most common violations were substandard emergency exits, lighting and automatic alarm systems.
Deputy Head of the Fire Fighting Prevention and Control University's Department of Fire Fighting Nguyen Minh Khuong agreed that public awareness remained low.
"Not many residents know about fire prevention methods, and they violate safety regulations on a regular basis," he said.
"For example, fire exits are often blocked by personal possessions such as motorbikes and cars," he said.
People needed to be aware that emergency exits should remain closed, but they were often found open making it easy for smoke to spread through a building if a fire broke out, he said, adding that in many cases, people choked on smoke.
Lack of fire prevention awareness had resulted in many fatal accidents, he said.
Hung opened his restaurant on Ta Quang Buu Street nearly three years ago. The 36-sq.m shop is well equipped but he doesn't have any fire extinguishers, despite the fact there is a lot of flammable material packed into a relatively small space.
"I do not think it is essential to equip the shop with a fire extinguisher. They are not cheap," he said.
"If a fire happens, we can use water to stamp it out," he said.
Hung still remembers what happened two years ago at a small house 50m from his shop.
"A gas explosion killed two children, a ninth grader and her younger brother, a first grader.".
The explosion happened after their mother turned on the gas stove to boil water.
However, he still didn't think it was necessary to equip himself with a basic knowledge of fire fighting.
"Local authorities have not held fire fighting and prevention training courses for people since I moved here. However, I'm not that interested in learning," he said.
"You can see that I am too busy with my shop and could not find the time to attend a course, even if one was organised. I don't think I'd remember how to use the equipment if a fire broke out anyway," he said. Nguyen Tran Nam, a fire fighter in Hoang Mai District, said there were many causes of fires, but residents' awareness was the most important thing.
"If fires are discovered and handled in a timely manner, their damage could be minimised," he said.
"We often co-operate with local authorities to organise fire fighting and prevention exercises for local people, but not many of them take part," he said.
While fire fighters still face many difficulties such as lack of equipment and human resources, it was important for residents to be aware of fire prevention and fighting techniques to minimise fires and the damage they could cause, Nam added.
Head of the Ministry of Public Security' Department of Fire Fighting and Prevention Doan Viet Manh noted that the most urgent issue was to raise public awareness of fire prevention and fighting.
"If people are fully aware of the responsibility they have to prevent and fight fires, outbreaks will be quickly discovered and stamped out," he said.
In order to improve fire prevention and fighting efficiency this year, the department plans to focus on improving public awareness and strengthening inspections to punish those who violate fire prevention regulations.
Ha Noi targets to reduce the total number of fires by 5-10 per cent against 2013's figure this year by focusing on measures to raise the efficiency of fire prevention and fighting and rescue work.
The ministries of finance and public security have issued a regulation instructing organisations, agencies and individuals whose properties are at risk from fire to buy fire insurance by February 13.
"If I owned a bigger shop or my business expanded, I would think about purchasing fire fighting equipment and even fire insurance," Hung said.
"Anyway, I will always be careful not to let a fire happen," he added. — VNS